Here is a big budget Marvel movie. Summer must be in the air. At least when it comes to the summer movie season, which has been getting started earlier and earlier each year. And with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” coming out the first weekend of April, it may be hard to call this a summer movie, but it is pretty much spring training for the big boys, helping to get those butter machines warmed up, and to get those jaded, minimum wage earning teenagers in shape.
And while a little more talky than most movies of this ilk, make no mistake, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” follows the superhero movie template, complete with gigantic CG action scene at the end and countless (and uncounted) bloodless deaths throughout. But still, there are a few things separating this movie from the rest, and maybe there is something after all with this film, something more than just selling me the next one.
In case you have not been following the big story arch being woven so far by Marvel and Disney, which spans multiple movies now all with differing titles, Captain America (Chris Evans) was America’s scientifically enhanced (read: steroids) super soldier, their only one really, and he helped the US win World War II by defeating, not the Nazis, but a group called Hydra, one so evil that they were just using the Nazis as their instruments at that time. So Cap saves the world, gets FROZEN, then thawed out in modern day America. SMASH CUT TO: alien invasion in New York City, which Cap also helps save with the help of some people from some other movies (that should have been the title. “Marvel’s Some People From Some Other Movies“).
Now cut to Washington D.C., a world in which the alien invasion in New York is referenced and spoken about in reverent tones, like it is their September 11th (which it IS to them), and Captain America is still working with the US by way of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is pretty much their version of the NSA, but focused also on otherworldly stuff and whatnot as well as general super villainy. A rescue operation quickly leads to Cap discovering that something is wrong within S.H.I.E.L.D. and it does not take long for the shit to hit the fan, and Cap teams up with Whazzername (Scarlett Johansson) to find out what stinks in Denmark.
What makes this movie cool and different from the other Marvel movies to date is the way it stands out by having its own tone and themes, getting away from the more typical “bad guy wants to destroy city/world and good guy needs to stop him” thing that we have been getting over and over and over, and instead making a 1970’s political thriller set in a modern post-9/11 world, but without ever having to mention that actual event or ANY real world events along those lines, because we’ll always have the invasion of New York as our safe comic book movie allegory. So hell, at least someone took advantage of Marvel and Disney mining this real world event for our entertainment and managed to make something that tries to actually SAY something about the world we live in now, which is tough to do, it had to be SHOUTED over all the GUNFIRE and EXPLOSIONS and ACTION.
But yes something was trying to be said, and actually they were really upfront with it, as Captain America became privy to a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. project that was meant to act as a pre-crime deterrent kind of thing, like “Minority Report,” seeking out the bad guys based on their past behaviors and what they could possibly mean, as opposed to waiting for the bad guys to actually commit the crimes. Cap just spells it out (and some of this is in the trailer) that “this isn’t freedom…this is fear.” And that is very much the world we live in today. How much of our personal freedom are we willing to give up for security? Are we willing to live in a police state to feel safer?
And they DO take this one step further and bring up the question of whether we should even trust an entity to put such a system in place, because who sets the profile standards? Who decides who is a danger to society? Because depending on who is in control, any one of us could be deemed a danger to society, to be dealt with however they see fit. And even worse, what if those whom we WOULD entrust to do such a thing turned out to have ulterior movies, did a whole 180-degree “Gotcha!” with a finger in your face and decided that you were on the outs along with everyone else?
And if you REALLY, REALLY want to get political about it, there is definitely a Tea Party allegory you can work into there, as a rogue splinter group hidden within a government entity covertly steers the group into the direction they choose, with dire consequences for all. Sounds pretty Tea Party-ish to me.
But don’t worry, children and geeks, this movie doesn’t get too deep into any of this stuff, they just keep it surface level, some lip service to make the movie SEEM like it is about something, and then BAM! action scenes! Like Anthony Mackie with metal wings! And Cobie Smulders cobie smoldering! And the Winter Soldier winter soldiering!
Oh yea, so there is this whole thing about the Winter Soldier. He’s in the title, after all. No details here though. They don’t really matter, anyway, so you might as well just see the movie to see who he is and his relationship to everything. Why give away all the secrets, right? But there’s this Winter Soldier fella, and he’s, like, strong and stuff, and not everyone believe he exists. But he does exist. Because his name is in the title. So we know he exists. Stupid intelligence community. They don’t know shit.
The mood and tone of this movie really does set it apart from everything else, what with the 1970’s style paranoia combined with the modern terrorist threat story, dressed with all the comic book movie accoutrements, and that led to something that may be a bigger issue for me personally really than for the movie itself.
And here is the possible issue, which I have been dealing with for a little while now: I fear I am becoming an old man, with old man sensibilities, and that sucks. Because while watching this movie, first I was taken back a bit by the amount of gunfire throughout this thing, as well as what I imagine is a rather high body count, all of it that horrible PG-13 style violence that really is bullshit and which I have grown to hate in movies. And then later on in the movie, I was a little surprised by how “adult” the movie seemed to be getting with its themes, especially when it is essentially a kid’s movie.
WOAH WOAH WOAH. Right there. THAT was the thought that sprung into my head without forewarning, and which seems to be a testament to my getting to an older, curmudgeonly state. A kid’s movie? Really? Yup, it kinda is. Should adults really be watching movies about dudes in masks and guys with wings and 95-year old super soldiers? And it is not like this movie is NOT meant to be seen by people of all ages. It is PG-13 after all, so the MPAA would rather you keep your 12 and unders away, but I am sure Marvel and Disney would be fine with letting the 10-12 year olds watch this thing, because after all, if they don’t watch it, how else would they know they need to buy their Winter Soldier action figures at the store?
Shit, if this movie were meant for adults, why are there toys to begin with? Know what I mean? It’s not like they made a bunch of “The Wolf of Wall Street” toys. So that’s kind of a dead giveaway there.
Anyway, maybe it’s a little harsh to call this a straight up kid’s movie, because again, it is far too violent to be such, because that would be morally irresponsible. When it comes to the comic book movies getting cranked out Marvel, it is actually a little higher on their list, more watchable than most, definitely with some ideas, maybe not fully fleshed out, but their nonetheless, and hey, that has to count for something, right?